INTERVIEW: FG’s attempt to force ASUU back to work will backfire, says don

By Genevieve Aningo

Ogochukwu Ugwueze is a graduate assistant and a master’s student at the prestigious University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) in Enugu state.

In this interview with CRISPNG, he speaks, as a stakeholder in the public tertiary education sector, aired on the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that has grounded activities in varsities for more than eight months.

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It’s a known fact that in order to resume the public universities after a period of more than 8 months strike, the federal government recently compelled universities to reopen and lecturers to resume duties. Should lecturers be forced to work? 

No. I say this because what ASUU is doing is constitutionally right. This is a form of protest; when things are not going as they should be, people protest. Strike is a form of protest that unions and corporate bodies embark as a way of drawing the attention the concerned authorities. They do this not as the first approach. Protest is a last resort when other options have been exhausted.  

Can you share us why your verdict? Why do you condemn the fedral government for forcing ASUU to work? 

I would rather say the forceful attempt for lecturers to go back to school as a way of showing they have failed in their primary assignment — which is to take care of the Nigerian people. I consider that act as something smirks of disregard for right and humanity of the lecturers. On the part of the ASUU forcing them to school shows you do not care about their humanity and right, secondly you pushing them to be vulnerable and to be susceptible to crime, a hungry man can barely resist the temptation to do some things. It’s been almost 8 moths, that members of ASUU has not been receiving their pay. It’s also forcing them to crime, an aggrieved person would always deliver their services grudgingly and that would eventually affect students. I see a university as a production establishment however this time, what the university produces are human resources and manpower skills that would populate and facilitate other sectors of the economy. Being, the case you are putting the entire country to risk by making the producers of this manpower to work without commitment. It is risky because the students would have to bear the brunt, and by extension, the country. Apart from delivery method of lecturers, we can also look at how their student relationship may be affected by the reality of the force. 

On the government, this act would be profiling them as irresponsible; instead of them to take responsible and do what they are supposed to do, they are trying to show some level of weakness. It is autocratic to force people than to dialogue and I think they perceived that that is why they withdrew their decision to force lecturers to work. 

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With your disposition on the subject can you say ASUU justified in their course?

The budget of this government on education last year and this year is less than 8% on education, all levels of education in Nigeria; this is not in addition of what may be in budget for state government. UNICEF stipulated that education sector should be pegged at least 15% for developing countries. This tells how far the government is far from achieving its expectations generally on education. Also, I don’t know if we all that the university generates some funds.

However, the money generated by the university is paid directly to the government through the Treasury Single Account (TSA). Previously, before the introduction of TSA, universities are allowed to make money/fees within the campus, small businesses on campus and other means. This internally generated revenue the universities were previously allowed to use this money and remit the remaining to the federal government, but it was the Jonathan administration that came up with the idea of TSA while the Buhari’s administration implemented it. What it means that the money the universities generates goes directly to the federal government and they make budget for universities. What it means that the universities depend on the federal government for the running of the universities.  ASUU is not in charge of running the university but the administrators. The Vice Chancellor, Deputy Vice Chancellors are those that could be among ASUU, some of them are even anti-ASUU, so the bursar is not an academic staff, the registrar is not an academic staff and a number of principle staff that are in charge  of the leadership of the university are not part of ASUU. The allocation of the federal government to the university, ASUU doesn’t know about it. What happens is that when this money are sent, whatever the administrations does with the money, nobody knows but part of ASUU protest is that the university needs to be funded and revitalised.  

Can you tell us in details some of ASUU pleas to the federal government?

 What ASUU is telling the government, the money you sent it seems it’s not being used appropriately, if you claim that you have been sending in money, we don’t see it. One of the problem of leadership in Nigeria in relation to education is that they said they released money and if sincerely they released money, how do they request accountability, do they ask these people they gave this money, how are these money spent? Part of ASUU protest is on end allowance that comes from the agreement that the federal government is aware that lecturers are doing more than they should be doing if we force

Every lecturer is not supposed to teach more than 30 students, you are to teach about 25 students but the federal government has forced National Universities Commission (NUC) to force schools to admit beyond their capacities. The federal government is not ready to fund the universities to meet up with the number of applicants that want to enter the university. The understanding is to take care of these over loads, we would pay you some allowances for this overload as lecturers are also doing supervision, being Heads of Departments and many other offices as well.  The last earned allowance we received was in 2019.

In addition, there was an agreement in 2009. The agreement was renegotiated in 2017 by the federal government but up till now nothing has been done. By 2020, ASUU confronted the federal government and that was what triggered the 2020 ASUU strike. Part of what is in the agreement is that every five years, the salary of federal universities salary would be revisited. Where things work which is obtained in other agencies in Nigeria, the salary should correspondent to the situation of the economy, when the economy gets bad because the workers need to survive in this economy something is added to their pay. 

Another isuue that ASUU is pushing in this strike is the payment system, the university staff has a unique mode of operation and people have failed to understand and saying ASUU shouldn’t be paid on the months they are on strike. 

As a graduate assistance, the federal government expects me to exhaust my salary in retaining my job and taking care of personal needs. This is because my promotion and retaining my job is dependent on me obtaining a masters programme and fathering to PhD level. Also, there are other variables such as sabbatical leave, study leave that the university accommodates and that is why the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) has fallen short because the payment does not factor in these variables. These variables are not obtained in other agencies; they are peculiar to the tertiary education sector.

ASUU built the University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) and they put it through test and it performed better than IPPIS. However, the contention of the federal government is that if ASUU adopts method other government agencies would want to develop their own. 

About the ‘No Work No Pay’ mantra, it is either the federal government is being economical with the truth or ignorant. The job of a university lecturer is about four aspects – teaching, supervision, monitoring and research. Right now, we are still working, research is still ongoing. In other words ASUU is still doing its work. All the works they have not done they would still do. I am the assistant exam officer in my department, the final year students results that’s pending due to the strike, I would still compute even if its in the next 10 years, those exams and classes I would still teach them. This is why it is sheer economy of truth to say that ASUU does not deserve to be paid for the months that they were on strike. 

A lot of government agencies are adopting concession to move on. The seaports, aviation, electricity has had to implore public private partnership. Would you recommend to ASUU?

The government want the populace to think that they are handicapped and what ASUU is asking is not possible. There has been nowhere that ASUU asked the federal government to leave the university for them; university autonomy does not mean leave university for ASUU. ASUU is not in charge of universities, ASUU work in the university, university autonomy means that universities would generate its money and pay its staff and take care of itself. Within the universities there are colleges within universities.  These colleges are autonomous in the sense that  they generate the money they use. However there is an agreement that they would be generating a certain amount of money to that body that they are under.  University autonomy means that the Vice Chancellor and his principles officers would be in charge of the money generated in the university and then would be in charge of paying ASUU and then they would be remitting a certain amount of money to the federal government.

On the concession they are many things that could be done if want to decisively handle issues. Why does the government not have money? I want everybody to see what ASUU is doing is asking for accountability from our leaders. If you look at the temper of leadership in Nigeria, you would see that they are purposely doing everything to ensure that there is no voice asking for accountability. #EndSars was a voice asking for accountability it was shut down, in fact, ASUU seems to be the only national body that can stand and say no to the government but ordinary Nigerians do not see this. ASUU is asking for the basic. 

Having established that ASUU is justified in their course, to what extent can ASUU continue in their quest for federal government to meet their needs? 

The truth is that there are always resolutions. Compromises may play in but not on the fundamentals. For instance, federal government can feature some UTAS payment peculiarities system in the IPPIS, in order to still maintain this payment system across the federation.  By doing this, I think ASUU should know it’s a sign of responsibility from the government. This is me saying there could be compromise but not on the fundamentals. We haven’t been pathetic about our education. I am a student as well and a member of ASUU as well.  I was to be scheduled for my masters’ defense but I am yet to do that due to the strike. Where necessary ASUU should compromise but if the federal government insists on not addressing the fundamentals, the loud cry should continue until there are addressed. 

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